As the second half of Helsinki Challenge starts this upcoming autumn, we’re introducing to you the members of the jury one by one. First up is Mikko Kosonen, President of Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra. He has been on the jury since the pre-qualification round, choosing the 20 semi-finalist teams. For the final stretch, he advises the teams to have courage and broaden the concept of science.
Helsinki Challenge is halfway through. How has it looked from you viewpoint?
I’m looking forward to seeing how the teams have progressed from the beginning of the competition to the acceleration phase in the end. It’s especially important to see how entry ideas have morphed into real solutions to the grand problems of today. Helsinki Challenge is a great way of showing how to solve real-life problems in an effective and interesting way, and the competition highlights the importance of science and research in solving these problems.
Any advice for our teams?
The idea is not to advance research in a certain field, but to be innovative in implementing it cross-scientifically to solve concrete problems. Have courage and step outside of traditional science-making. This is a competition where you are allowed to bend scientific traditions a little bit in order to take your research into practice. It requires a fine balance to be able to contain scientific rigor and credibility and at the same time to find an innovative way of implementing the science into practice. A solution is only truly impactful when it can be widely spread in society. The bigger and more innovative the solution, the better.
Can innovation competitions be used more widely to solve societal challenges?
Yes, definitely. They should be a permanent way of solving challenges in Finnish society. One of their upsides is a quicker timespan. A competition speeds up the pace of reaching actual solutions. Work is efficient and the prize money and other extra resources motivate participants. The idea is not to hasten research or to make compromises with scientific quality, but to add a certain extra incentive to get research into use and to serve society.
It is important to remember that the third mission of the university is societal impact. It has always been a challenge to get research into wider use, so science-based innovation competitions could be one way of fulfilling this mission.
Finnish Universities could be facing tough budget cuts. How do you see the role of universities and research in society in economically hard times?
Science-based innovation competitions popularize science to decision-makers and people in a good way. Innovation competitions bring out deep knowledge rooted in universities. They show what breakthroughs science and research are capable of, and thus highlight their importance in society. This is crucial in order to ensure funding in the future. Helsinki Challenge proves that science can solve problems within a shorter time span, too.
Photo: Sami Kulju